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Northwest: Canucks set to see plenty of sights

by Roger Phillips
Through the first four months of the NHL season, the Vancouver Canucks played only 22 road games, posting a 10-11-1 record away from home.

But over the next five-plus weeks -- with more than two of those weeks on the sidelines during the Olympic break -- the Canucks will play 14 more road games.

In a row.

The Canucks begin the longest road trip in NHL history Saturday in Toronto. From there, they go to Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Tampa Bay, Florida, Columbus and Minnesota.

They do get to take a breather while the Olympics take over the city of Vancouver, but are then back on the road in Columbus, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Colorado and Phoenix. By the time the Canucks play another home game – March 13 against Ottawa – the Super Bowl will have been over for more than one month and the baseball season will be less than one month away.

"It's obviously something that is extraordinary for a team to be out of their building, to play that many games consecutively, on the road," Canucks Assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman told the Canadian Press. "It will be significant and our team will have to be playing well when the trip begins."

The good news for the Canucks is they are doing exactly that. Their 3-2 victory over the Blues Wednesday night gave them seven-consecutive victories, lifting them for the time being into sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division.

If they are still in first place when they finally find their way home, the Canucks will be in great shape. At that point, they will have only five road games left, with 11 games remaining at home, where they are 23-7-1.

Gilman told the Canadian Press he expects the long trip to improve the team.

"This is going to be a Stanley Cup competing team," he said. "We think this road trip isn't something that is going to affect our competitiveness over the course of the year. Our players are going to spend a great deal of time together, so it may very well turn out to be a positive thing for us."

For real --
When the Avalanche started the season on a surprising 10-1-2 roll, they built a cushion that has sustained them for the last few months.

The strong start allowed the Avalanche to remain at or near the top of the division for the next few months, even though they were only a .500 team during a 14-14-4 stretch from Oct. 30 to Jan. 8.

But now Colorado is hot once again, and the Avalanche have silenced any lingering doubters who have questioned whether they are for real. Most recent was a 4-0 rout of the Dallas Stars, which gave the Avalanche six-consecutive wins and two shutouts in the last three games.

Craig Anderson, so dominant in goal early in the season, has allowed only one goal in the last three games.

"I think the biggest thing with us right now is just confidence," defenseman Kyle Quincey told the Denver Post. "We're coming into games expecting to win. We learned the hard way.

"Earlier in the year, we lost some leads, and we've gotten past that. We're not going to give teams any hope, because if you do, they're going to come back and bury you."

Rookie T.J. Galiardi added, "We want to play a full 60 minutes every night. That's what we're working on. We're not going to sit back when it's 3-0. We had some trouble earlier in the year with third-period leads, but we're keeping the foot on the gas, and lately it's been working out."

Right now, the Avalanche are vying with the Canucks for the division title. And if the Canucks flounder on their upcoming road saga, the Avalanche has a chance to take advantage. Starting Sunday, 10 of the Avalanche's next 14 games will be at home.

Chilly Flames -- It's not exactly a newsflash that the Flames are underachieving. They lost at Dallas on Wednesday night, though they did get a point because they went to the shootout. Still, it was nothing worth doing cartwheels over.

The Flames are 0-6-2 in their last eight games. A team that includes Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Deon Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr should not be struggling just to make the playoffs.

General Manager Darryl Sutter and his players believe the answers to what ails the Flames already reside in the dressing room. His players seem to feel the same way.

"We believe we have the team in here that can do it," center Daymond Langkow told the Calgary Sun.

Regehr added, "I don't think anyone in this room is happy with the way things have gone here the last couple of weeks. We've really struggled."

It's time for the Flames to prove they're better than they've played. They have 29 games remaining, and the March 3 trade deadline is little more than one month away.

"It's time for us to go out there and fix it," Regehr told the Sun. "Sometimes you have to work extra hard and make as few mistakes as possible. We've got to work our way out of it."

Winger Rene Bourque added, "I think we know we have the guys in here that we want, that are good enough to make this team successful. I don't think anybody is worried about making moves right now."

Dazed Dubnyk -- There are good situations for rookie goalies to be placed in, and there are difficult ones. Being a rookie goalie for the destitute Oilers right now falls into the latter category.

Devan Dubnyk, 23, was the Oilers' first-round draft choice in 2004. He's patiently worked his way up the ladder, and with Nikolai Khabibulin out for the season, Dubnyk is getting a chance to play regularly.

But he's 0-5-1 thus far, with a 3.92 goals-against average and an 86.9-percent save percentage.

Perhaps the most discouraging game came last week against Dallas. Sam Gagner scored for the Oilers with 1:02 remaining, evening the score at 3-3. If the Oilers could pull the game out in overtime, Dubnyk finally would pick up his first NHL victory.

Instead, the Oilers didn't get a point. James Neal of the Stars scored the winning goal with 23 seconds remaining in regulation.

"I don't know what to say about the way that one just finished," Dubnyk told the Edmonton Journal. "That seems to be the way things are going right now. It just went right on his tape.

"I had to push to my right because if they're throwing it to the front of the net, guys were going to have their sticks out to poke it. I have to have my body there for deflections. All I could do was turn my head and see the puck going by."

It was the Oilers' second consecutive tough loss. Two nights earlier, they had fallen 3-2 in overtime to Vancouver, with Dubnyk making 26 saves.

"We just have to keep going," Dubnyk told the Journal.

Through Wednesday, the Oilers were 1-16-2 in their previous 19 games.
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